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Semitic Alphabets

Rick Aschmann

Semitic alphabets are actually abjads, and only list consonants, not vowels. They all seem to have come from a single source (see commentary below) except for Akkadian, which used a cuneiform syllabary rather than an alphabet: only its consonants are listed, not its writing system. It is an East Semitic language: the East Semitic languages underwent more early changes than any of the other languages, and were never written with an alphabet or abjad, but rather with a cuneiform syllabary that was totally unrelated to any of these alphabets.

Semitic Alphabets in North Semitic Alphabetical Order


In the chart below, the columns containing the Semitic alphabets that followed the North Semitic alphabetical order are marked at the top of the column with . Two South Semitic alphabets are also included for comparison; these are marked with . The Ugaritic alphabet has been found in both North Semitic and South Semitic order, and so is marked with . Letters in the same row generally have the same derivation. (Ugaritic letters are given in two different fonts, Aegean and MPH 2B Damase. The former seems to be the standard form, as shown here. I am not sure why the latter has a few very divergent forms.) At the top of each list is shown the approximate date the language or alphabet was first written, or in the case of unwritten languages, when it was probably first spoken. This is followed by the number of consonants in each alphabet or language. Colors used (see commentary after the chart for details): Red: Letters which have been moved out of their standard alphabetical order in order to show their correspondence with the Ugaritic alphabet. Pink: Consonant sounds in a language which were not written with a distinct letter, even though they were clearly distinguished in the spoken language. Yellow: Consonant sounds which were lost in a particular language, showing what other consonant they merged with. green: Proto-Sinaitic consonant names and shapes which were changed in the Phoenician/Hebrew alphabet. Proto-Semitic was not a written language, and in fact probably predated the first writing, but based on comparison of all the known languages descended from it, it seems clear that it had a total of 29 consonants, and the Old Yemeni Alphabet retained all 29 of them. See Proto-Semitic Sounds in Daughter Languages and the link for the first column in the chart. All of these alphabets, including the South Semitic ones, were probably derived from the same alphabet, which must be at least as old as the Ugaritic alphabet, which shows both alphabetical orders. Many suggest that Proto-Sinaitic was this original alphabet, and that both the North Semitic and South Semitic alphabets were derived from it, including Ugaritic. The information for Proto-Sinaitic in the chart was obtained from various sources. The Wikipedia article suggests that there is doubt about Proto-Sinaitic being an alphabet, but actually there is little doubt, as shown by this article and the Colless article mentioned below. However, there seem to be (at least) two drastically different analyses of the inscriptions, and this affects the final alphabet inventory and the letter names. I have presented both in the chart: the first is by William Albright and others, and the other is by Brian Colless. The Albright, etc. analysis is listed first, and uses a Proto-Sinaitic font obtained from http://ancientroadpublications.com/Fonts.html#ProtoSinaitic, which was based on Albrights Schematic Table of Proto-Sinaitic Characters found at the bottom of this page. The Ancient Names and Meanings mostly follow this table and the modified table by Simon Ager on this page. Some additional ideas can be found on this page (in Spanish), but I did not find them very helpful. The Colless analysis can be found beside this, and is based on this article, and especially on the chart at the bottom of it, which was drawn by hand and is somewhat hard to read. For many letters I have been able to use the same font as for Albrights analysis, though some of the symbols have been reinterpreted, but sometimes I could not, in which case I have said (see Colless), meaning that you will need to consult Collesss chart. (I have not yet had a chance to read Collesss article exhaustively, and I very much want to, because it sounds like he has done his homework.) I mention Colless repeatedly here: search to see all comments.

Semitic Alphabets

Last update: November 22, 2013

Rick Aschmann

ProtoSemitic 3750 B.C.? 29 1. * 2. *b 3. *g 4. * 5. *d 6. *h

IPA

Akka- Old dian Yemeni alphabet 2800 1300 B.C.? B.C.? 19 29

Ge'ez Name

Ugaritic Alphabet 1400 B.C.? 27 (28)

Trans- IPA literation

Name
1

100 A.D. 24 (26)

ProtoSinaitic (Albright, etc.) 1850 B.C.? 26? 1. A 2. B 3. G 4. X 5. D

Ancient Ancient ProtoName Mean- Sinaitic ing (Brian Colless) 1850 B.C.? 27?

b d h w z/dz t j k

1. b 2. g 3. 4. d

9. 20. 14. 21.


17. 1.

13. 9.

lf bet

1. / 2. /

a b g d h w z y k l m

a b g x d h w z t j k l m

alpa beta gamla a

a b

alp bt gaml

ox-head house throwstick hank of yarn fish

1. A 2. B 3. P

a b p x

Ancient Ancient Phoe- Hebrew IPA Name Meannician Alphaing & Paleo- bet Hebrew 1400 B.C.? 22 22 25 (23) alp ox 1. 1. 1. bayt gaml ayt house boomerang thread 2. 3. 2. 3. 8. 2. b 3. 4.

MeanEarly Trans- Later Transing Aramaic liter- Aramaic literAlpha- ation Alpha- ation bet bet 1000 300 B.C.? B.C.? 22 29 22 24? (23) aleph ox 1. 1. 1. 1. Name beth house 2. 3. 8. 2. b 3. g 4. 2. 3. 8. 2. /b 3. /g 4.

Arabic TransAlpha- literbet ation

28 1. 2. 3. 27.

b j kh d h w z y k

20. gml 3. / 11. arm 4. / 19. dnt 5. / 6. /

gimel camel

x d h

a digg

G 4. X

delta ho 6. H haw / man hillul calling / jubilation waw hook iqq manziqq acle) ? weapon (t) (t) court

5. i 6. H

dalt

door jubilate

4. 5.

4. 5.

5. d 6. h

daleth door he window

4. 5.

5. d 6. h

4. 5.

5. /d 6. h

4. 5.

1.

hoy

hll

7. *w 8. *z

5. w 6. 6. z

24. 23. 26. 12.


3.

15. wwe 7. / 17. zy 8. /

wo

7. W (15. C

w c

w l (15. C c
8. 9.

7. W

waw ayp ziq

hook eyebrow) fetter mansion good hand palm

6.

6.

7. w

waw

hook

6.

7. w

6.

7. w

6.

zeta ota et yod kaf

8. ? 9. I 10. ? 11. Y 12. K

7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

8. z 9. 10. t 11. j 12. k

zayin heth eth yodh kaph

weapon wall, fence wheel hand palm (of hand)

7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

8. z 9. 10. 11. y 12. k

7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

8. z 9. 10. 11. y

7. 8. 9. 10.

9. * 10. * 11. *y 12. *k

7. 8. y 9. k

9. / 21. yt 10. / 18. ymn 11. / 14. kaf 12. / 13. /

3.

wt

asir ab yad

y k

yad kapp

spindle? 10. (see Colless) arm 11. (see Colless) palm 12. K

kap

12. /k 11.

in

26. *

(see row below)

13. *l 14. *m 15. * 16. *n

l m n

11. m 4. (z) 25. 12. n 13.


29.

10. l 2.

2. 4. 17.

lwe may

14. / 15. / 16. /

lamda mem al

J 14. M
15. C 16. N

13. L

l j m c n f e

lamd mm

ox-goad water

J j 14. M m c n f

13. L

lamd maym ayp na

goad water eyebrow snake

12. 13.

12.

13. l

lamedh goad water

12. 13. 6.

13. l 14. m 15. 16. n

12. 13.

13. l 14. m

12. 13. 26. 14.

l m dh n s

13. 14. m mem

iqq manacle 15. C ziqq na snake 16. N

(7. )
14. 14. 15. n nun serpent fish

(8. )
14.

d
15. n

12. nhas 17. /

14.

n s

n s

nun u samka (18. E 17. ? n samk eye) fish 17. (see Colless) 18. D (see Colless) il shade fish support eye 16. 16. 17. 15.

17. * 18. *s

/t () s
13. s

23.

18. / 19. /

(18. )
15. 16. s samekh fish

18. 15.

17. 18. s

(9. )
15.

()
16. s

24. 15.

samk samk n

19. *

18.
11.

7. 16.

sat yn 20. / ain 18. E

eye

19. E

ayin

eye

16.

19.

16.

17.

16.

Semitic Alphabets

Last update: November 22, 2013

Rick Aschmann

ProtoSemitic 20. *p 21. * 22. * 23. * 24. *r 25. * 26. *

IPA

Akka- Old dian Yemeni alphabet 14. p

Ge'ez Name

Ugaritic Alphabet

Trans- IPA literation

Name
1

ProtoSinaitic (Albright, etc.) 19. P

p s/ts /t k t

p s

Ancient Ancient ProtoName Mean- Sinaitic ing (Brian Colless) pit corner? 20. e

Ancient Ancient Phoe- Hebrew IPA Name Meannician Alphaing & Paleo- bet Hebrew 17. 18. 18. p 19. s

Name

MeanEarly Trans- Later Transing Aramaic liter- Aramaic literAlpha- ation Alpha- ation bet bet 17. 18. 19. 20. p 21. 22. 23. q 24. r 25. 17. 18.

Arabic TransAlpha- literbet ation

15. 28. 19. 16. q 5. 17. r 8. 27.


16. 18. 15.

25. 23.

f dy

21. / 22. /

pu ade 20. S a(d) plant

pu

mouth bag

17. 18.

pe

mouth

18.

17. 18. 25. 19. 20. 28.

f q r th

s
q r

21. Q

irar

tsadhe hunt

19.

24. pp 8. 6. 7. 7. 13. / af rs 23. / 24. / 25. /

(16. )
19. 20.

()
20. q 21. r

q r

qopa raa

21. Q 22. R

q r

qu(p) monkey 22. (see Colless) ra head 23. R ann


2

qaw

ra ad

cord, line head Breast)

19. 20.

19. 20.

20. q 21. r

qoph resh

needle head head

19. 20. 21.

anna (24. t 23. V

im

composite bow) sun

(25. t

(21. )

(22. )

(t)

24. (see Colless) 25. t 26. ? 27. T

im

sun 21. 21. 21. 16. 22. 22. 23. 24. 25. t taw mark shin sin tooth 21. 26. 21. 22. 21.

) t i u s2()

(s) t i u

in u 24. t 25. F 26. T ann a taw


2

sh s gh t

27. * 28. * 29. *t

7.

5.

wt

(30. /
26. /

19. t

16. 10. 10.


22.

ain to i u u

composite bow ? owners mark

ad

breast

21. [] 27. (15. ) 16. 22. 28. 29. t

(s)
23. 24. /t

(15. )
23. 22.

inab taw

grape owners mark

(16. )
22.

(16. )
22.

twe

27. / 28. / 29. / 30. /

(see row
27. *

above)

/
1

word divider

In Wiktionary names are provided for most of these letters, though meanings and Ugaritic spellings are not provided. However, it turns out that these names are merely reconstructions, mainly from the later Phoenician/Hebrew names, or in a few cases is simply the syllable pronunciation, at least according to this page. However, apparently these reconstructions are based on good evidence that Ugaritic really did have names for their letters, and that we know for certain at least the first syllable of most of the letters, based on a tablet called KTU 5.14, which contains most of the letters with a corresponding Akkadian equivalent showing this first syllable. This tablet and the conclusions drawn from it are shown on this page.
2

apparently derived from Ugaritic 13. / ( [] in), but it is placed alphabetically in the place of Ugaritic 25. / ( [] anna). (I dont know why the two different fonts show such Ugaritic 13. / ( [] in) look much like the Proto-Sinaitic letter t, which was evidently pronounced as either [] or as [], not as [], and both Albright and Colless list a different letter for []. So how do we make sense of this? which was a distinct sound from [] (later spelled ). However, this page says that according to William Albright , [the letter sin or shin] was based on a bow and with the phonemic

Based on its shape and pronunciation, the Phoenician letter 21. (pronounced []), from which came the Hebrew letter , used for two Hebrew consonants ( []) and ( []), was

incredibly distinct forms for Ugaritic 25; the former seems to be the right one, and neither looks anything like the Phoenician or Hebrew letter.) However, both Phoenician 21. ( []) and

It seems to make sense if we realize that South Canaanite and North Canaanite ended up slightly different. In Hebrew the Semitic phoneme * [] became [] (later spelled ),

Semitic Alphabets

Last update: November 22, 2013

Rick Aschmann

value corresponds etymologically (in part, at least) to original Se mitic (th), which was pronounced s in South Canaanite This seems to suggest that * [] merged with [] in South Canaanite but with [] in Central Canaanite and Hebrew. If so, then this explains why Albrights table mentioned below shows the letter ( []) as derived from a Proto-Sinaitic letter t with the name ann (apparently equivalent to Ugaritic anna composite bow), but shows a different Proto-Sinaitic letter V im sun (later Hebrew eme) for the [] sound. In Phoenician apparently all three of the sounds , , and were merged into one and were all spelled with the Phoenician letter , so this letter V was not retained in Phoenician or the later Aramaic and Hebrew alphabets which derived from it, even though the sounds and were still distinguished in Hebrew and Aramaic and were later spelled and . As for the symbol t, it looks like both a bow (or, according to Colless, like breasts) or like a couple of teeth, so was apparently renamed shin by reidentification. Confused? No wonder! Perhaps the following chart can help clarify the situation: Proto-Semitic Ugaritic 25. * [] 25. / [] anna 27. * [] 26. * [] composite bow 13. / North Canaanite and Hebrew_ ___ Proto-Sinaitic and South Canaanite t [] or [] ann composite [] sin (in) [] in [] shin tooth bow or ad breasts V im sun Phoenician

21. [] shin tooth_

Note that none of these sounds was the same as the simple [s] sound, which was quite distinct and experienced no changes: 18. *s [s] 19. / s [s] samka s [s] samekh fish d samk fish 21. s [s] samekh fish However, much later, well after the completion of the Old Testament, Hebrew [] changed to [s], giving and the same pronunciation. Brian Colless has a different opinion about the meaning, names, and origin of the symbols used, but otherwise his analysis agrees with this arrangement. This letter was apparently not used in Ugaritic to represent a separate sound, but based on its appearance in the South Semitic alphabetical order, it was evidently intended to write the [] sound in other Semitic languages, corresponding to the sound traditionally transcribed as in Hebrew and in Proto-Semitic.
3

The dates in the large chart above are all estimates, and should all be taken with a big grain of salt. For the most part they are not my estimates, but estimates of experts in their respective fields. Even so, every one of them is a guess. For the languages that were written, this is usually the estimated date of the first texts found in archeological digs, but this does not mean that these languages might not have been written earlier, it simply indicates that neither archeology nor secular history can give evidence that it was written earlier. For Proto-Semitic the date is even more of a guess, because only comparative linguistics gives us any information, and neither archeology nor history can tell us anything about it. I have put the date for the Phoenician alphabet down as 1400 B.C., which is much earlier than most sources state, and have cited an article about the 22-letter Cuneiform Short Alphabet as evidence. This alphabet has an identical consonant inventory as the Phoenician alphabet, clearly distinguishing it from the 27-letter Ugaritic alphabet, suggesting that it was used to write a Semitic language with only 22 consonants, probably Phoenician. Proto-Sinaitic was evidently used to write an earlier form of a South Canaanite dialect, with more consonants than later Hebrew, Canaanite, or Phoenician. How many letters (consonants) did Proto-Sinaitic have? There is no way to know, since the data available is very limited. However, if we assume for each of these two analyses that the analysis is accurate, and if we also include letters that clearly existed later on in Phoenician and Hebrew (several are missing for Albright, and only one for Colless) we get a list of 26 letters for Albright and 27 for Colless, as shown in the chart above. Actually, Albright, Colless, and Ugaritic line up quite well: the one ProtoSemitic consonant totally missing from Ugaritic (22. * [/t]) is also missing from both Albright, etc. and Collesss lists, and Ugaritic 25. * [] apparently corresponds to at least South Canaanite [] (see footnote 2 above). This strongly suggests that the 27 letters of the basic Ugaritic system also represent the complete Proto-Sinaitic alphabet.
Semitic Alphabets Last update: November 22, 2013 4 Rick Aschmann

Of course, there could have been more consonants written in Proto-Sinaitic that have simply not come to light because of the limited number of inscriptions, and it is even possible that all of the letters in the Old Yemeni Alphabet came directly from Proto-Sinaitic, in which case it would have had symbols for all of the 29 consonants of Proto-Semitic. This is not outside the realm of possibility, since languages in both the far north (Early Aramaic) and in the far south (Old Yemeni) did retain all of these consonants, and Canaan appears to be the area of greatest innovation involving loss of consonants, but when those losses occurred is impossible to determine. (This page assumes that Proto-Sinaitic had 30 letters, but they are evidently equating its alphabet with that of Ugaritic, which did have 30 letters, though it only had 27 native consonants.) Even if it is true that the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet had all 29 letters (a big if), we have no way of knowing where the two letters missing from the 27-letter Ugaritic alphabet would have been placed in the North Semitic Alphabetical order, or even if they were ever placed in such an ordering. These are Proto-Semitic 27. [], which probably corresponds to letter 30 in the Ugaritic alphabet, but was clearly an afterthought because it was not a sound used in Ugaritic (having merged with s), and ProtoSemitic 22. [/t], which had merged with 21. [s/ts] and so was not listed in the Ugaritic alphabet. One factor entering into this question is that some of the letters may have changed their names from Proto-Sinaitic to Phoenician/Hebrew (at least in the case of the Albright, etc. analysis): the Phoenician alphabet page says, according to a theory by Theodor Nldeke from 1904, some of the letter names were changed in Phoenician from the Proto-Canaanite script. (Apparently the letter shape was usually also different as well.) The list follows, with some comments by me. I have colored these letters green (under the Albright, etc. analysis), and I have attempted to determine, simply by looking at the letter shapes, which of the two options the various alphabet symbols and letter names seem to correspond to, putting the two options on separate lines separated by a grey line. These are quite subjective, but perhaps instructive! Im skeptical about this one: it looks like all they did was flip the symbol! gaml throwing stick gimel camel dalet door digg fish jubilation he window hll ziqq it im manacle snake corner sun na zayin nun pe in weapon fish mouth tooth See footnote 2 above.

Apparently ziqq was originally iqq, and was the name of the letter , which later merged with z in Canaanite.

I have not yet studied Collesss article and data sufficiently to do the same for it, but I have colored his letters green wh en they disagree with Albright, etc., and have tried to arrange them in this system as well. The Charis SIL font used for IPA and transliteration was found on this page. The Aegean font used for Ugaritic was found on this page. The MPH 2B Damase font used for Ugaritic and Phoenician was found on this page. The two fonts used for the Old Yemeni alphabet (Sabaic and Qatabanic styles) were found on this page. However, since I have now posted this file in PDF format, all fonts should appear correctly for all users without having to download them. Arabic letters in red are normally at the end of the alphabet, as the numbering shows, but I have arranged them to show their relation to Ugaritic, since these two languages retained more of the original Semitic consonants than did Canaanite (to which Phoenician and Hebrew belong). These letters were placed at the end because the Arabic Alphabet was derived from the Aramaic Alphabet (essentially identical to the Hebrew Alphabet), but since this alphabet did not have all of the sounds in Arabic, these six letters were invented just for Arabic. Because of the complex way in which phonemes have merged, I have also moved two of the Ugaritic phonemes out of their place in the alphabetical order, and have marked them in red also. (See Footnote 2 above for an explanation of the red letter in the Proto-Sinaitic column.)

Semitic Alphabets

Last update: November 22, 2013

Rick Aschmann

Of the 29 consonants in Proto-Semitic, Arabic retained 28 and Ugaritic 27, though if we include 30. / for there are letters for 28, though not the same 28 as for Arabic.

Hebrew Sounds Retained in the Spoken Language but not Adequately Represented in the Phoenician/Hebrew Alphabet
In earlier versions of this article I had said that Hebrew had retained only 23 of the 29 Proto-Semitic consonants, since the distinction between [] and [] was clearly retained and eventually distinguished in the spelling, as and even though the alphabet officially has only 22 letters. Thus and are normally listed as one letter in the alphabet, but have different pronunciations and dotting. * Eventually the pronunciation of merged with , but the spelling distinction was retained. The story of shibboleth and sibboleth in Judges 12:6 suggests that these sounds were already merging at the time of the judges, and that the merger had progressed farther in some regions than in others. The original pronunciation of was probably [], which is how Sylvester the cat pronounces his ss in the Warner Brothers cartoons. This can be seen by comparing Hebrew words containing with the same words in some of the South Semitic languages that retain this sound, but there are also a few vestiges of evidence in Greek words borrowed from Hebrew:

Proto-Semitic *//

Examples Early Later Greek Hebrew Hebrew Early Hebrew Greek meaning // /s/ /ls/ /em/ balsam

(This Hebrew word /em/ is quite frequent in the Old Testament, usually translated spice in modern translations, but the Greek word is not used to translate it in either the Septuagint or the Greek New Testament.) However, it seems that Hebrew actually retained 25 consonant phonemes, as seen in the IPA column to the right of the Hebrew Alphabet Column in the large chart above, not just 23, using and to write two consonant phonemes each. The reason they only wrote with 22 letters is because they adopted the Phoenician alphabet to write Hebrew, and the Phoenician dialect of Canaanite had already reduced its consonant inventory to 22. The following chart is taken from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Hebrew_language#Consonants, but I have modified it to make it easier to read:

Proto-Semitic *// *// *// *//


*

Later Aramaic Arabic Hebrew Early Hebrew /mih/ // /tsra/ // // // /mla/ /r/ // /mar/ // // // /ee/

Examples Aramaic Arabic meaning /am/ /xamsah/ five /sarax/ shout /mil/ salt /arab/ raven /arb/ west /abd/ slave

This dotting was not used to distinguish these two sounds until the second half of the first millennium A.D., so the distinction was only maintained orally up to that time, just as it was for the two pronunciations of and . The difference is that the latter merged into one sound each before the dotting was invented, whereas the pronunciation distinction of and is still maintained today. In this example the tongue is not pulled back as much as it is for [] in most of the languages that use it, but it is still clearly [] rather than [s]. Semitic Alphabets Last update: November 22, 2013 6 Rick Aschmann

these phonemes are also distinguished consistently in the Septuagint of the Pentateuch, but this becomes more sporadic in later books and is generally absent in Ezra and Nehemiah. Numerous examples can also be found in the Greek New Testament:

Proto-Semitic *// *// *// *//

Examples Later Arabic Greek Hebrew Early Hebrew Later Hebrew Arabic Greek meaning // /x/ /rl/ /rl/ Rachel // /isq/ // - /yiq/ /yiq/ Isaac /mrh/ /mrh/ /amrah/ Gomorrah // /g/ Gaza /azzh/ /azzh/ / azzah/ // // - /w/ /w/ Esau

Thus these four phonemes were still distinguished at the time of the writing of the Septuagint, in the 3 rd century B.C., after the completion of the Old Testament, and it seems probable that the [] pronunciation of was retained to around that time also. However, by the time the Masoretes developed their diacritic system for clarifying the pronunciation of Tiberian Hebrew in the second half of the first millennium A.D., these distinctions had been lost, and these sounds had their Later Hebrew pronunciation.

Aramaic Sounds Retained in the Spoken Language but not Adequately Represented in the Alphabet
The situation of Aramaic is even more complicated. Its alphabet was borrowed in about the year 1000 from the Phoenician Alphabet, which only had 22 letters, and as stated in Note 4 under http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semitic_languages#Consonants: Although early Aramaic (pre-7th century BCE) had only 22 consonants in its alphabet, it apparently distinguished all of the original 29 Proto-Semitic phonemes, including *, *, *, *, *, * and * although by Middle Aramaic times, these had all merged with other sounds. This conclusion is mainly based on the shifting representation of words etymologically containing these sounds; in early Aramaic writing, the first five are merged with z, , , , q, respectively, but later with d, t, , s, . (Also note that due to begadkefat spirantization, which occurred after this merger, OAm. t and d in some positions, so that PS *t, and *d, may be realized as either of t, and d, respectively.) The sounds * and * were always represented using the pharyngeal letters and , but they are distinguished from the pharyngeals in the Demotic-script papyrus Amherst 63, written about 200 BC. This suggests that these sounds, too, were distinguished in the Old Aramaic language, but written using the same letters as they later merged with. Thus of all the alphabets listed here, Aramaics was the one least suited to the language it represented, with 29 consonants in Early Aramaic and 24 in Later Aramaic being represented by only 22 letters. (Like Hebrew there was a distinction between the sounds later written as and in the Aramaic sections of the Old Testament, but as in Hebrew these dots were not added until the second half of the first millennium A.D.) Those extra consonant sounds that were not distinguished are marked in pink on the chart.

Semitic Alphabets

Last update: November 22, 2013

Rick Aschmann

A. G. Lundins reconstruction of Linear Ugaritic


A. G. Lundin suggests that the source of the Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet was not cuneiform but a linear alphabet that had a form very close to the ProtoAlphabet of all the Semitic languages, presumably derived from Proto-Sinaitic, though he does make this entirely clear. This Linear Ugaritic corresponded exactly to the Ugaritic alphabet, and in fact he claims to be able to reconstruct the actual forms of the Linear Ugaritic letters based on the Ugaritic wedge shapes (with help from the later alphabets). His conclusions (Table I, page 94) are shown in the chart below, with the numbering corresponding to that of the Ugaritic Alphabet in the chart above, with 27 consonants plus 3 extras added later. His system is quite logical and compelling, though of course that does not make it authoritative! However, Brian Colless (different article than the one mentioned repeatedly above) seems to agree with many of his conclusions, suggesting that he should be taken seriously. Lundins theory, then, is that Ugaritic was originally written in a linear alphabet like the other Semitic Languages, but that because it was written on perishable materials no examples have been found. This alphabet was then converted to a cuneiform alphabet in order to write it on clay, a much more permanent medium. Cuneiform had only two signs: 1. The wedge, usually or , though it could have other orientations 2. The angle wedge (Winkelhaken), in other fonts . The following are Lundins rules for how the Linear Ugaritic letters were transformed into cuneiform, sometimes rephrased by me to make them clearer. The numbers represent the consonant numbers in the chart. To really understand how the rules work, you need to read the article. Rule 1: A circle in Linear Ugaritic is represented by the angle wedge in Ugaritic cuneiform (10, 18, 20, 23, 25; Figure 1). Rule 2: A straight line (or a line with an appendix) in Linear Ugaritic is represented by a wedge in Ugaritic cuneiform. Vertical and horizontal lines retain their orientation, but oblique lines are shown in various ways. Rule 3: A broken or curved line in Linear Ugaritic is represented by three successive wedges in Ugaritic cuneiform (17, 4, 11). (However, sometimes three successive wedges represent a straight line of three segments as in 5.) Figure 3 shows both cases. Rule 4: Two parallel wedges in Ugaritic cuneiform usually represent an angle in Linear Ugaritic, not parallel lines (21, 18, 19, 12, 24; Figure 4, misnumbered as Figure 5). Rule 5: Crossed lines in Linear Ugaritic are represented by two wedges meeting at a right angle (10, 15?; Figure 5, misnumbered as Figure 4). The rest of this rule seems confusing to me, or based on only one real example. These rules are unidirectional: the cuneiform letters can be derived from the linear letters, but not the reverse. Thus Lundin had to use all of the known linear alphabets as well as the cuneiform to help him reconstruct the presumed original alphabets. Beside Lundins chart I am showing each consonant in two different fonts. The first font (Aegean) is usually closer to Lundins analysis, and also seems to be the standard form; the second is the one I have originally used everywhere else in this article, though I have now included both.

Semitic Alphabets

Last update: November 22, 2013

Rick Aschmann

A. G. Lundins reconstruction of Linear Ugaritic and the Proto-Alphabet

F1 F2 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.


Column Titles: F1 F2 Signe U = Font 1 (Aegean) = Font 2 (MPH 2B Damase) = Proto-Semitic consonant = Ugaritic (14th 13th century B.C.)

F1 F2 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30.

U.Lin. = Lundins reconstructed Linear Ugaritic P = Phoenician (12th 11th century B.C.) Parc. = Partial?? SS = South Semitic Alphabet (10th century B.C.) PS = Proto-Sinaitic Symbols (17th 13th century B.C.) PA = Proto-Alphabet (late 16th early 15th century B.C.)
Last update: November 22, 2013 9

The dates for U.Lin. and PA are Lundins estimates. The other dates are merely those of the first documented examples, and in fact he suspects that the 29-consonant SS variety existed in Palestine and Syria as early as the 15 th century B.C.

Semitic Alphabets

Rick Aschmann

Semitic Alphabets in South Semitic Alphabetical Order


In the chart below the columns containing the actual South Semitic alphabets are marked at the top of the column with . The Ugaritic alphabet has been found in both North Semitic and South Semitic order, and so is marked ; it is numbered in the South Semitic order, but the North Semitic order is also shown for reference. Letters in the same row generally have the same derivation. (Ugaritic letters are given in two different fonts, Aegean and MPH 2B Damase. The former seems to be the standard form, as shown here. I am not sure why the latter has a few very divergent forms.) There is some variation in the South Semitic order, as shown in the variation in numbering. The Ugaritic order is probably the original, but because the Old Yemeni Alphabet (also called the South Arabian Alphabet) is the only one with a complete inventory of the original Semitic consonants, I have listed them in this order, marking variations in Ugaritic and Geez in red. The Modern South Arabian languages are apparently not descended from the languages that used the Old Yemeni Alphabet, all of which died out no later than 600 A.D., though they are related to them. Even so, in both cases all of the original 29 Proto-Semitic consonants are retained, with only a couple of changes in pronunciation in the Modern South Arabian languages. Colors used: Red: Letters which have been moved out of their standard alphabetical order in order to show their correspondence with the Old Yemeni alphabet. Pink: New letters not derived from previous alphabets, representing innovative consonant sounds. Yellow: Consonant sounds which were lost in a particular language, showing what other consonant they merged with.
ProtoSemitic 3750 B.C.? 29 1. *h 2. *l 3. * 4. *m 5. * 6. *w 7. * 8. *r 9. *b 10. *t 11. *s 12. *k IPA Modern South Arabian ? 29 29 Old Yemeni Alphabet 1300 B.C.? 29 transliter- IPA Ge'ez transliter- IPA ation Alphabet ation 100 A.D. 24 (26) Name Ugaritic Alphabet 1400 B.C.? 28? transliteration
IPA Name
1

North Semitic order

h l m k w b t s k

/h/ /l/ // /m/ /k/ /w/ // /r/ /b/ /t/ /s/ /k/

2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.


1.

h l m q w s2 r b t s1 k

h l m q w r b t s k

1. 2. 3. 4. 8. 15. 5. 6. 9. 10. 7. 14.

h l m w r b t s k
10

h l m k w r b t s k

hoy lwe wt may af wwe wt rs bet twe sat kaf

1. / 2. / 3. / 4. / 5. / 6. / 7. / 8. / 14. / 9. / 10. / 11. /


4

h l m q w r b t s k

h l m q w r b t s k

ho lamda ota mem qopa wo in raa beta to samka kaf

6 14 9 15 23 7 13 24 2 27 19 12

Semitic Alphabets

Last update: November 22, 2013

Rick Aschmann

ProtoSemitic 13. *n 14. * 15. * 16. *p 17. * 18. * 19. * 20. *g 21. *d 22. * 23. * 24. *z 25. * 26. *y 27. * 28. * 29. *

IPA

Modern South Arabian

Old Yemeni Alphabet

transliter- IPA Ge'ez transliter- IPA ation Alphabet ation

name

Ugaritic Alphabet 12. / 13. /

transliteration

Name
1

n p /t d t z/dz j s/ts /t

/n/ /x/ //,/h/ /f/ / / / / // // /d/ / / /t/ /z/ // /j/ // /s/ //

14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29.
13.

n s3 f g d z y

n x s f d t z j s

12. 11. 7. 25. 13. 16. 24. 20. 19. 16. 21. 17.

n s f () g d z y s

n s f d t z j s

nhas arm

n x p a

nun a u pu alpa ain

17 4 30 21 1 20 (22)

(15. / 4) f lf yn pp gml dnt yn yt zy


16. / 17. / 18. / (/) 20. / 21. / 22. / 23. / 24. / 25. /

p g d , z d y

s
g d
gamla delta ain et zeta al yod anna ade u

3 5 26 10 8 16 11 25 22 18

t
z j

18. 7. 23.

ymn

26. / 27. / 28. / 19. /?/

ts dy pyt

22. 26.

psa

No. 1 No. 50 numeric indicator

(29. /) (30. /)
/

i u
word

i u
divider

i u

28 29

Semitic Alphabets

Last update: November 22, 2013

11

Rick Aschmann

If we compare lines 7 and 15 of the South Semitic chart above, we see that the Old Yemeni sounds and the Ugaritic sounds seem to have swapped places. However, in fact Ugaritic /, numbered 15 in the South Semitic alphabetical order and 30 (as if an afterthought) in the North Semitic order, was apparently not used in Ugaritic to represent a separate sound, but was either unused or was used for the same sound as 10. / [s]. Therefore it is not surprising that the Old Yemeni alphabet swapped 7 and 15. This is why it seems probable that Ugaritic / was intended to write the [] sound in other Semitic languages, traditionally transcribed .

Semitic Alphabets

Last update: November 22, 2013

12

Rick Aschmann